Ohio and Indiana mark 150th anniversary of Civil War invasion

By Thunderbolt Raiders Staff


The sesquicentennial of the Great Raid of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and his band of Thunderbolt Raiders has created quite a stir along their 1,000 mile route from Tennessee to northeast Ohio. Many communities all along their route through Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio set aside days to relive the terror they felt when the Raiders invaded.

The Great Raid of the Civil War actually started in Tennessee, where Morgan and his men were camped.  They forded the Cumberland River into Kentucky on July 2, 1863 and planned to cross the Green River on a bridge at Tebbs Bend on July 4. But the bridge was well-guarded by 200 Union Soldiers who had built a makeshift, but very strong, fort. Morgan lost 35 killed and 45 wounded, while the Federals lost 6 killed and 23 wounded.

Kentuckians didn’t wait until July 4, 2013 to commemorate this battle. On June 8, some 200 persons attended a re-enactment of the battle of Tebbs Bend.  Lexington, KY attorney and author Kent Masterson Brown spoke about the battle.  A new historic marker dedicated to Union Army Private Frank Voss of Michigan was unveiled by the Tebbs Bend Battlefield Association.  But those killed on both sides were honored.

After that defeat, Morgan found another place to cross the Green River and his command of about 2,400 then headed for the small Ohio River town of Brandenburg, KY.  There, they hijacked two steamboats and hauled their horses, wagons, cannons and themselves into Indiana—in direct violation of orders to stay in Kentucky.  

Just north of the Ohio, they were briefly slowed by Indiana Home Guards, at the town of Corydon, which has been commemorating the Great Raid for several years. The city went all-out all out this sesquicentennial, with three days of activities Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 12, 13 and 14.

Following the path of the raiders into Ohio, the metropolitan Cincinnati area also scheduled a variety of activities.   The city of Harrison, now a Cincinnati suburb, formally dedicated Ohio’s finally-completed John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail. 

Major James McCreary of Morgan’s 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, was one of the first Confederate officers into the unguarded Harrison. He wrote in his journal that, “This is the most beautiful town I have yet seen in the North. A place, seemingly, where love and beauty, peace and prosperity, sanctified by true religion, might hold high carnival. Here we destroyed a magnificent bridge and saw many beautiful women.”

The city of Harrison and the Harrison Historical Society had a ribbon-cutting of the historical marker and a reenactment of the raid on downtown Harrison.  No bridges were burned as they were during the Civil War. 

Harrison was the first Ohio community visited by the Thunderbolt Raiders, but there were many others, including Blue Ash, Colerain Township. Glendale, Sharonville, Georgetown, Williamsburg, Jackson, Piketon, Bergholz and Old Washington. For more information on observances in Ohio communities visited by the Raiders, we suggest visiting  http://www.ohiocivilwar150.org/morgans-raid/

By mid-July of 1863 Morgan’s Men were being hounded by Union Cavalry and thousands of Ohio militiamen who had been called to duty by the governor. The Thunderbolt Raiders were no longer concentrating on making the Yankees feel the effect of the war, but trying to find a place to cross the Ohio River to the south.

Then came the night of July 17, 1863.  Morgan made the biggest mistake of his life.

At the Buffington Island ford, where they could cross the Ohio to the safer environs of West Virginia, he and his officers decided to camp in Ohio one last night, before crossing the river at dawn.

They didn’t know that they faced overwhelming odds from Union forces, and that the river was heavily patrolled by federal gunboats. In the morning fog of July 18 infantry and artillery on both sides became confused on where they were and which forces were firing on them. Gunboats shot many Raiders who tried to swim. About 900 of the Thunderbolt Raiders were killed, wounded or captured at Buffington Island. Only some 300 men and their horses were able to swim across the river to the comparative safety of West Virginia while Morgan and a skeleton force of about 400 continued to flee.

Buffington has historical significance because it was the only battle of the war involving all three segments of the military: infantry, artillery and navy.  And three future presidents of the United States fought for the Union–Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield and William McKinley

The Buffington battle was in sparsely –populated Meigs County.  The sesquicentennial of the battle was set to be commemorated Saturday and Sunday July 20 and 21 at the site of the fighting on Ohio Rt. 124 in tiny Portland, OH near the Ohio River. The Ohio Historical Society has a small but attractive memorial that includes battle information, which is the centerpiece of Buffington’s observance.

Scheduled in Portland was an observance of the anniversary and a dedication of Ohio‘s new roadside signs about the raid and a rededication of an existing monument to the “Fighting McCooks.”  Maj. Daniel McCook was one of 18 members of the McCook family of Carrollton, OH who served in the Union Army.  He was killed in the Buffington Island battle.

From Buffington Island, Morgan and his men zigzagged to avoid Union troops as they were desperately trying to find another place to cross the Ohio River.   They came as far northwest as Nelsonville, just a day’s ride from Columbus, where panicked bankers had put their money on a train and shipped it to Toledo for safe-keeping.

A week after his defeat at Buffington Island, the jig was up for Morgan. Union forces blocked all escape routes and on Sunday, July 28, 1863 Morgan was forced to surrender to overwhelming odds.  The location on Ohio Rt. 518 between Gavers and West Point, OH is marked with a large plaque on a huge glacial rock brought to the site. The site is the northernmost location that any Southern troops reached during the Civil War.  

This marker is in Columbiana County which had a variety of activities planned for July 27 and 28 coordinated by the Lisbon Historical Society in partnership with the East Liverpool and Wellsville Historical Societies. No reenactment was planned because there really wasn’t any significant fighting in Columbiana County.